Rejoice in trials (yes, really)
This year has been filled with trial after trial after trial, and we still have a few months to go with a national election on the horizon. Yippie. While none of us has ever experienced a worldwide pandemic until 2020, we each have had our share of trials in life.
From natural disasters to the sinful strife within the natural man, our world is broken and groaning for relief. There's a trial happening on every corner of the earth and every corner of your neighborhood.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).
Yet, all throughout Scripture, in all kinds of circumstances, God calls us to rejoice.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
How do we hold the tension of rejoicing always while living in a world that is always broken?
Is the Lord intending to exasperate His children with such a command? How do we rejoice in a hurricane, when homes are crushed and memories are demolished? Or during wildfires that run wild through vineyards and valleys? Or with a virus that is killing hundreds of thousands around the world and wreaking havoc on people’s mental, emotional, and financial health? Or within a world that seems more bent on dividing than uniting?
Rejoice and lament
Rejoicing always isn't a call to put on rose-colored glasses.
The trials of Job show us that even in the midst of great affliction, we can stay faithful while still authentically feeling our feelings. After Job lost his children, possessions and wealth, he “stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head.”
Job was rightfully grieving and mourning over the people and possessions he held most dear. He didn't stuff his feelings, pretend like nothing had happened or hurry to bypass his grief.
But, unbelievably, lamenting isn't all Job did.
Then, “he fell to the ground and worshipped, saying ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’” (Job 1:20-21).
In the same terrible moment, Job mourned and rejoiced. God, in His goodness, shows us in his Word that we can do both. This divine dichotomy allows us to authentically grieve over what has been lost, what is difficult, what we don’t understand - all while praising the name of the Lord.
Lament and praise are not contradictory; they are vital parts to the work God is doing within our hearts.
Trials refine your faith
Rejoicing and lamenting together are marks of a real and authentic faith. English preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls."
Just as a pearl is formed by an irritant that enters into the shell, rare pearls of empathy, compassion, understanding, wisdom, purity and deeper intimacy with God are formed in you during trials as you abide in Jesus.
Even as I wrote this article, I stepped away from my laptop to pick up my children from school during a complete downpour. By the time we all returned home, we were drenched from head to toe. Before a complaint could slip from my lips from this minor irritation, God reminded me of the call to rejoice always ... yes, even when soaked through and through.
Three truths to trust
But even in crisis, or perhaps especially in crisis, we can rejoice and be confident of these biblical truths:
1. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
While a particular circumstance may threaten to shatter your happiness, you can trust in the promise of the Lord to bring you into the kind of completion that yields the ultimate joy. This is true on the days when you're bubbling over with joy and true on the days when your joy is at a deficit.
2. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His to purpose” (Romans 8:28).
If your name is inscribed on the palm of His hands, then you can trust that all things - no matter how devastating or horrific - have gone through His hand and ultimately will be used for your good and His glory (Isaiah 49:16).
God calls us to rejoice because it actually sets us on the road to healing.
3. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
No natural or manmade disaster, no darkness or evil, no distance or power can separate you from God's love. The God of the universe loves you, delights in you and rejoices over you with singing, so for those very reasons you can rejoice in Him always (Zephaniah 3:17).
Rejoicing irrespective of circumstances is a faith-filled response.
As we abide in Jesus, we will exit a trial more deeply tethered to the Lord than when we entered into the trial. We will cling to His truths more tightly. Our faith will be refined as purer, clearer and more concrete. And we can be sure, the deeper the lament, the deeper the joy available in the Lord who is our strength.
Abiding in Jesus accesses the joy that is readily available to us.
Paul Brand, a missionary surgeon to India wrote in his book, The Gift of Pain, “Pain and pleasure come to us not as opposites but as Siamese twins, strangely joined and intertwined. Nearly all my memories of acute happiness, in fact, involve some element of pain or struggle. I have never heard anyone say, 'The deepest and rarest and most satisfying joys of my life have come in times of extended ease and earthly comfort'”.
Count it all joy
Think of the many kinds of trials you have experienced over the course of your life. Some were brought to you, unavoidable and uncontrollable. Disease, death, devastation in disaster. Some trials you may have brought on yourself, from poor judgement and lack of obedience and trust in the Lord.
Either way, God has undoubtedly shown Himself faithful to you in both circumstances. God's merciful promise to mature you, sustain you and bring you into the full measure of Christ cannot be broken (Ephesians 4:13). In this living hope we can rejoice and count it all joy, because our mighty Redeemer wastes nothing.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3-7).
No matter what trials come our way, our salvation is secure, being kept in heaven for us by Jesus. This alone should cause us to fall on our faces and rejoice. We have an inheritance that is imperishable, incorruptible, and unfading that will offset, for eternity, any trial we endure temporarily on earth.
Because of this eternal perspective, you really can - by the power of the Holy Spirit - “count it all joy ... when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
Don’t be surprised
How many times have you heard someone say how strange this pandemic is? It is strange to see children in masks. It is strange to think yourself a danger to the elderly. It is strange, for some, to be considered elderly. It is strange to socially distance at church.
But the Bible prepares us for all kinds of trials. Jesus himself told us that we would have trouble, suffering and sorrow in this world but to take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Nothing about what we are experiencing is strange to God.
It should be a great comfort to us that in our darkest moments the Light of the World is still sovereign and has a plan and purpose for our lives.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (I Peter 4:12-13).
Trials, while we would never ask for them, make us partners with Jesus. While we could never compare any of our suffering with that of Christ's, Scripture tells us that we fellowship with Him when we suffer for Him. We can know Christ more deeply and be more Christ-like during and after the trial – even if it doesn’t turn out the way that we hope.
God grows our capacity through difficulty
Jesus carries us through trials that would otherwise capsize us. In the midst of a storm, the apostle Peter walked on water to Jesus (Matthew 14:29). He experienced his Lord in a way that no other apostle did, because he came to Jesus in bold faith amidst choppy waters. We, too, can experience the Lord in amazing ways in the midst of trials and come up with "rare pearls" our hearts will treasure forever.
Trials produce endurance and hope
“Because we know that affliction produces endurance. Endurance produces proven character. Proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
When Jesus provides the strength necessary to endure a trial (and He always does), it proves His character while refining our character. We see that He is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us, which produces great hope within us.
So we can rejoice, even in our deepest and darkest afflictions.
Tim Keller, pastor, theologian, author and Christian apologist shared this hope-filled statement regarding his current pancreatic cancer treatment:
“Our situation has driven us [he and his wife] to seek God’s face as never before. He is giving us more of his sensed presence, more freedom from our besetting sins, more dependence on his Word—things we had sought for years, but only under these circumstances are we finding them.”
Only under certain kinds of trials can we experience a certain type of joy in Jesus.
As we abide in Jesus, both mourning and rejoicing during trials, we will experience Him in a more intimate and personal way. We will be filled with the wonderful joy that is promised to believers as we walk with Him in both the highs and the lows. And we can rejoice always, because God is forever near and faithful, and this world is not our forever home.